ABADABAD and a New Kind of Marketing


Tucked away in a corner of Allston, on a street barely a block long,

stands a dark, shingled house surrounded by overgrown weeds and a chain-link fence. Other than a small, faded front porch decorated with a string of tattered Buddhist prayer flags, a dilapidated wooden stool and a single, empty jug of Mississippi Mud, the house does not stand out from the others on the short row. To the ROTC boys who live next door, it’s a house of chain-smoking hipsters. To the girls across the street, it’s a good place to play some late night Jenga. But for some, especially those that live there, it’s a place where the term “bedroom pop” gains new meaning.

The house, which is usually called the Haunted Casino, is home to six boys, most days. Other days there are seven, or eight, or even 12 if a band they know is crashing on their floor for the night. The Casino is often a host to various recording, usually in the messy and hectic living room under a sparkling banner that reads “drinkin’ with my bitches.” Altogether, the residents form at least six different music projects, although the lines between them are often quite blurry. Some are full bands, others solo work, and some more of a joke than anything else. And while each new project brings an excuse for a new name, lately they’ve mainly been going by ABADABAD.

ABADABAD as they appeared in a 2017 article for WBUR.

Hailed as “some of the most prolific songwriters in the local scene” by community-oriented music blog Allston Pudding, ABADABAD is the newest project for five ex-Berklee students who have all called the Haunted Casino home. “ABADABAD’s take on hazy, reverb-soaked twang fits perfectly into the post-chillwave fabric,” Perry Eaton, the blog author, continued on with keen insight as the band began as a joke on the ambient, electronic genre of chillwave.

“I think it all started when Jeremy tagged the band as Brooklyn on Bandcamp,” said Adam Taylor Young, one of ABADABAD’s three guitarists.In May, four of the group’s five musicians were working together under the name Rodeo Church when their newest member began posting anonymous songs under the tongue twister name. “He was trying to imagine what the most stereotypically hip band could be. He tagged ‘Park Slope,’ our first single, as Levis, Ray-Bans, Urban Outfitters, American Apparel and Brooklyn.”

Jeremy Lee Given, a 23-year-old Berklee dropout who had joined Rodeo Church the year before, had released solo music previously, even a full album under his own name in December of last year. Even so, he had no initial intention of pursuing ABADABAD as anything other than anonymous online music. But the blogosphere quickly took to the airy, lo-fi pop, featuring “Park Slope (I’m Sorry)” on a number of widely read blogs the first week it was released. Faraway online personalities began to fawn over the music, self-described as “dangerous, tape relic’d, guitar rock from a land of perpetual summers of dreamy ladies,” which blends surf-rock guitars and soothing vocals to create soft songs reminiscent of the ‘60s. Without warning, the closed-door bedroom project became something much more.

“I remember showing the first song to Adam, and him telling me that he thought it would be a really good Rodeo Church song,” Given said, sitting on the Casino’s front porch as a CSX train rattled by less than a block away. “And then I released it as ABADABAD and it ended up being the demise of the band. I always really felt like that band there was going to need to be a jump into something that was more mature and professional and new. It could have been with any of this, and it was only with ABADABAD by accident.” He paused, letting the roaring train fade as he lit yet another cigarette, before continuing, “Hanging around all these people in this house has shown me: what if we do get that break we’ve all been waiting on through this band that was an accident?”

 “What if we do get that break we’ve all been waiting on through this band that was an accident?”

Rodeo Church, which had begun almost a full two years before Given joined, originally started as a collaboration between Young, drummer Joshua Northcutt and bassist turned guitarist Wellington Netto after their first year at Berklee. While their music originally began as organ-soaked garage rock, time and a revolving door of keyboardists evolved their sound into self-described dance rock by way of The Strokes. Given was last in a line of three keyboardists, but quickly began offering ideas and suggestions across the board once involved. “When Jeremy joined the band we moved a little bit beyond that. We didn’t have the mind of an arranger, and he pushed us in the bedroom pop direction,” Young said.

Although they did not start marketing themselves immediately, their first serious attempts to rile a fan base came in conjunction with the release of the Rodeo Church EP in late 2010. Enamored with the idea of being in a city, they focused their attention locally, playing shows in and around Boston at venues such as TT the Bears Place, the Middle East, Church and PA’s Lounge.

“We were trying to play lots of local shows and develop a following around here,” Young explained. “But we found that the Boston music scene, at least on a club level, is pretty dead.” Following in the footsteps of other nearby bands, Rodeo Church also embarked on a viral marketing campaign, spray-painting their name on sidewalks all over Allston. But despite their efforts, they were quickly disillusioned with the small numbers of people who would turn out to shows, realizing gigs with a cover would only draw out their friends.

Northcutt agreed with Young, berating the clubs they encountered, saying, “The basement scene, that’s probably the better side of it. The shows are more fun and they’re free. Other than that, I wouldn’t even know how to market ourselves around here. It just seems like it falls on deaf ears a lot of the time.” Eventually, Rodeo Church steered their promotion away from localism, focusing on potential fans nation and worldwide. Young explained, “We ended up just trying to get recordings and put them online. It kind of set the pathway for us figuring out what online marketing was like.”

Largely because of this, ABADABAD was completely online from the beginning. Even after being outed as a Jeremy Lee Given project, Given kept ABADABAD fully Internet-focused, not playing any shows until almost full three months after the release of “Park Slope (I’m Sorry).” And even then, they took place in New York.

“If you get a good response online, that’s how you know whether your music is good or not before you present it to all of the people that are listening around here,” Given insisted, explaining his delay in playing any local shows. “Some people like to play to empty rooms with bands that nobody’s ever heard of, and that’s a good experience. But putting yourself online gets you in different parts of America to different types of people who might work with venues or work on blogs.”

Tom Stein, a Berklee professor of professional music and a branding consultant, puts a strong emphasis on the power of social media in teaching his students how to market themselves. “This is sort of like the new version of the Yellow Pages, except how you get in the Yellow Pages is having a presence in social media,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine how you do anything without having it these days. That’s what social media is designed for: so people can find you.” And for ABADABAD, people did.

Days after “Park Slope (I’m Sorry)” was posted to the Internet, Gluttony is the New Black, a prominent music blog in the Tumblr community fondly reviewed the song, but hastily pointed out that the artist behind the façade was obviously a veteran musician. Andriana Albert, the 28-year-old UC-Berkeley graduate who runs the blog, and Given quickly struck up an online friendship, and she immediately offered to manage the band before there even really was a band. “She contacted us through a SoundCloud message,” Given said, referencing one of the various websites where they post their music. “We could tell immediately that she was serious.”

While Albert lives in Los Angeles still, she manages the band from across the country, along with another in Philadelphia. But even with 3000 miles of distance between them, she has been able to book more high-profile shows than they’ve ever been able to play before under any other name, such as Brighton Music Hall, the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan, and even spots at CMJ, a New York music marathon modeled after Austin’s South by Southwest.

When asked how she was able to make the kind of connections to book these shows, Albert said very matter-of-factly, “Most of the time it’s them reaching out to me through the music blog.” Between Gluttony is the New Black, which has been running since 2009, and the Twitter attached to it, Albert has been able to create and nurture relationships with emerging independent bands as well as other bloggers. After reaching out online to Greece-based band Keep Shelly in Athens about another project, they responded with an inquiry for an opener in Boston and New York, granting ABADABAD their two most high-profile shows to date and lending credit to the online music community.

“We found that the Boston music scene, at least on a club level, is pretty dead.”

“In reality, I don’t even think it’s a bigger audience, but I think it leads to bigger things,” Northcutt mused on releasing music exclusively to the Internet. The drummer, like every other member of the band, works on his own projects in his spare time and holds passwords to a number of social media outlets, all which are under the name of his solo work, YOMAHA. “I think it’s kind of cool to be a little bit personal,” he explained. “It’s like YOMAHA is me. It’s fun because it’s just entirely me.”

Ex-Berklee professor and author of 13 “music handbooks,” including Music 3.0: A Survival Guide for Making Music in the Internet Age, Bobby Owsinski believes this personalization is one of the major assets of musicians using social media. “With the internet, it’s completely different,” he said. “Now you can zero in on your audience, and if they like your music you can communicate with them, market to them, listen to their comments. They crave interaction with an artist, and now the artist is able to communicate in a way they have never been able to before.”

Givens, who runs all of ABADABAD’s social media, often posts things that seem irrelevant, but create a unique aesthetic for the band. When scrolling through their blog, band-oriented posts are typically punctuated with secondhand photos of patterned sweaters and girls in oversized glasses. Young explained the mindset behind the blog, saying, “It’s kind of a digital press kit. If the band gets reviewed, Jeremy will post it there.” He added, laughing, “The other stuff is just fun for fans. I think it’s whatever Jeremy believes a tweenage girl would post.”

But while ABADABAD has quickly been climbing the online indie latter, having been named one of UK-based magazine NME’s “100 New Bands for 2012” and remixed by the likes of Com Truise, Keep Shelly in Athens and Yalls, among others, this has yet to translate into a physical, live following. While they opened for King Krule at Brooklyn’s Glasslands in early January to a sold-out show, their last Boston gig proved disappointing. The evening before being written up by taste-setting blog Gorilla V. Bear in late November, they played a well-reviewed set at Brighton Music Hall, their second Boston show ever. But when the first chords were struck a few minutes after nine, the audience had barely reached 25. While the numbers continued to grow throughout their five-song set, the concert-goers still had space to dance and twirl in the small venue to what was largely their friends’ music.

No one seems to be letting setbacks such as these hinder them, though, as each of the members are still focusing on their own work as well. Northcutt and third guitarist Tim Batchelor both play in Pajama People, another local band, while Batchelor also works with the nine-piece outfit Salvador Jolly. And in late November, Netto released a solo EP under the name “McWolf.” While this all may seem confusing, according to each of them, it keeps them inspired. “It’s all just practice,” Northcutt said. “I figure the more you can just get out there without thinking about it too much the better.”

Young, who has plans for an upcoming project to be known as Little Dads, has similar feelings, saying, “It’s what we all want to do, so why not just immerse ourselves in it completely?” He took on a serious tone as he noted, “We’re all the same people and we all have our own projects, but this one seems to be getting the attention. We can’t control what people like, so we may as well take the opportunities that are open to us. It’s not stopping me from doing my own songwriting, so it doesn’t hurt anything. I’m happy to be along for the ride.”

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